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Collaboration to Serve Hispanic Students

I am a great fan of collaborative distance learning activities among colleges and universities. I recently attended a planning meeting for a new project at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU). The project is called the Virtual Learning Marketplace and is being developed to help Hispanic higher education students throughout the U.S. and in some Latin American countries. HACU is the association of institutions that fall into the federal definition of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)—currently defined as institutions whose student body is at least 25 percent Hispanic—plus others that have a smaller percentage of Hispanic students but large and growing Hispanic populations.

There were a number of interesting things happening at the colleges and universities represented at this planning meeting. Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute of Higher Education Policy, reported on some data from the survey of the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education that the Institute is doing. The full results, which will be available from the Institute ( in June, will reflect how minority-serving institutions apply technology. Based on preliminary data from the HSIs, the trend seems to be a higher than expected number of online courses are being offered. There were also more fully online degree programs than expected. So it seems that Hispanic-serving institutions are not unique in their adoption of Web technologies for distance and on-campus learning opportunities for their students.

In order to increase access to technology-based courses, San Antonio College has developed an Internet Center. Before a student can enroll in an online course, he or she must be sure to have the necessary skills. This Internet Center offers short, facilitated modules on basic computer skills, Internet research skills, and one on "How to take a course on the Net." Many of the San Antonio College faculty members insist their students complete these modules. This allows the students and the instructor to dive into the content of the course instead of dealing with a lot of auxiliary issues related to taking an online course. This model seems worth replicating in other cities.

These discussions for HACU were the culmination of work led by Alex Ramirez at HACU. One of the greatest problems faced by HSIs is one that is faced by most institutions these days: retaining students through graduation. In the discussions, John Melendez from New Jersey City University came up with the phrase, "Retention Management System," to describe a whole series of Web-based student support services that could be shared among institutions. These would be designed to ensure any student entering a program of study is entering the right program for him or her and that he or she stayed in the program. This is the same challenge that led Kapioloni Community College in Hawaii to develop a Web-based system that guides students into programs and helps them understand how the education they receive opens specific job opportunities and be built upon for career advancement. Kapaoloni’s program was supported in part through the U.S. Department of Education Learning Anytime Anyplace Program and focuses on allied medical fields. But the model seems applicable and could provide the HACU institutions with a place to start.

About the Author

Sally Johnstone is founding director of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) and serves on advisory groups for state, national, and international organizations to help plan and evaluate eLearning projects.

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